Post-election violence in Kenya, 2007-2008: Let it never happen again

It’s Sunday and I’m catching up on some reading from a number of journals which publish infrequently. One is Conflict and Health, a BMC journal with a self-explanatory title.

I’m reading “A national population-based assessment of 2007-2008 election-related violence in Kenya” which surveyed ~900 households all over Kenya, asking people if they experienced various types of violence before and after the disastrous 2007 Kenyan election. The event left up to 2000 people dead and displaced well more than 100,000 people, though the true numbers will never be known

Of 956 households surveyed, 916 households participated (response rate 95.8%). Compared to pre-election, election-related sexual violence incidents/1000 persons/year increased over 60-fold (39.1-2370.1; p < .001) with a concurrent 37-fold increase in opportunistic sexual violence (5.2-183.1; p < .001). Physical and other human rights violations increased 80-fold (25.0-1987.1; p < .001) compared to pre-election. Overall, 50% of households reported at least one physical or sexual violation. Households reporting violence were more likely to report violence among female household members (66.6% vs. 58.1%; p = .04) or among the Luhya ethnic group (17.0% vs. 13.8%; p = 0.03). The most common perpetrators of election-related sexual violence were reported to be affiliated with government or political groups (1670.5 incidents/1000 persons per year); the Kalenjin ethnic group for physical violations (54.6%). Over thirty percent of respondents met MDD and PTSD symptom criteria; however, symptoms of MDD (females, 63.3%; males, 36.7%; p = .01) and suicide ideation (females, 68.5%; males, 31.5%; p = .04) were more common among females. Substance abuse was more common among males (males, 71.2%; females, 28.8%; p < .001).

The results are horrifying. A huge percentage of people experienced some form of violence during the blow up. Amputations, sexual abuse and mutilations, clearly with the help of officials and police officers. Most analyses to date relied on anecdotal information or interviews with people known to have been victimized. This appears to be one of the first studies which randomly selected households to ask them about their experiences.

Though we like to think of these incidents as randomly occurring events perpetrated by misguided (or mentally imbalanced) individuals, in nearly all cases, there is an organized effort to wage violence against specific targets. This was true in Rwanda, has been true in Zimbabwe and we can go back farther to Europe’s own history of state sponsored genocide.

Fortunately, though there were sporadic events of violence before and after last year’s election in Kenya, the worst was avoided.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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